Like recurring dreams with similar themes, The Drawing Lesson came to me in bits and pieces over many years. And like a dream, it stole into waking consciousness until finally, it began to take form on the page. It had many shaky starts and stops and, what I thought was the beginning of the story, turned out to be the middle.
I remember the day I first met my protagonist, Alexander Wainwright, Britain’s finest landscape painter. I was at home writing a story about a man and woman, who had just met on the Orient Express from London to Venice. After writing thirty pages, I knew the story was in trouble, for if the writer has become bored, then the story is well and truly dead.
I won’t call Alexander’s appearance a vision. But I had an immediate sense of the man, who seemed very much like the famous actor, Donald Sutherland. I knew at once he was my protagonist. As a practical matter, I had to get the other man off the train. I think his name was Richard. Alexander Wainwright was an artist. Richard was a computer salesman. I did not hesitate in choosing between them. Then I had to get to know Alex and that took a surprisingly long time.
A number of years earlier, I had written a short story, The Thief, which is posted on my other website, www.theosgoodetrilogy.com. Celia was the main character in that story. Trapped within herself, she had no one to love. In that story, I had never explained why she was so painfully inhibited, but I knew I might find out if I brought her into The Drawing Lesson. It seemed destined that she should meet Alexander. And so she did.
Stories can evolve in the strangest ways. Sometimes they pour out and sometimes they only drip. But during this lengthy process, I set myself only one rule. Don’t throw anything out—at least not yet. Characters would appear and sometimes mysteriously disappear. The strongest ones were right there from the beginning like Alex, Peter and Daphne. Others arrived only much later, such as Bill, the Bible salesman or Richard Cavendish, the old man with the horse. When the story took an unexpected turn, such a character might appear. And I would not necessarily know why—until much later.
Obviously, I am not a writer who has the novel planned out ahead of time. Knowing the beginning, middle and end would take the fun and excitement out of the writing. I like to think of the process as organic—that is, let it grow.
But from where does it grow? In writing The Drawing Lesson, I was often surprised that characters, scenes, situations and dialogue would somehow float up to me. Personally, I think that the material comes from the sub-conscious and the collective unconscious—the dream world. Of course, when it first appears, it is in a pretty raw state and must be shaped, molded and polished. But that is the task of redrafting many more versions. Next, I’ll tell you more about the “big” questions I have posed for Alexander Wainwright and his attempts to answer them.